The Mini Maestro of La Verne Is Quite a Toot

March 11, 2011
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Nick on the alto sax accompanied by Alexander on the clarinet as Lani and Christopher listen in.

Nick on the alto sax accompanied by Alexander on the clarinet as Lani and Christopher listen in.

Some boys are fascinated playing with blocks or trucks, others like squashing bugs or pulling the wings off insects, but four-year-old Nicholas Kienker who lives in La Verne loves instruments – playing them, drawing them, reading about them and imitating their unique sounds.

This mini Mozart or boyish Beethoven falls asleep to Ravel’s “Bolero” or Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Nicholas’ musical interest was sparked when he picked up a niece’s guitar and started strumming it just after he had turned two-years-old. His mother, Lani, an education consultant who works from home, thought it was cute, took a picture and didn’t think much about it until Nicholas started asking to go to the library to check out books on guitars.

“Then it became books on bands, and then books on orchestras,” Lani said.

Now he can name and draw every instrument (the drawings are almost Picasso-esque), as well identify the particular sound each instrument makes. Asked to imitate the sound of a flute, he delivers on cue, as if he has been playing at Carnegie Hall his entire life.

“Do-dee, do- dee, do-do-dee,” he chirps.

Nicholas’ play area is a jumble of toys and instruments given to him on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays. At Christmas, when he was two, he got a quarter-violin. Last Christmas, it was an alto saxophone. From his pile of playthings, Nicholas pulled out a case, found a clarinet inside and assembled it faster than some people can tie their shoelaces.

While he couldn’t play it yet, he sure acted like Benny Goodman playing the licorice stick.

Since Nicholas has shown such a proclivity for music durng his pre-school years, it’s no wonder Lani and her husband John, a magazine editor for the Claremont Review of Books, are constantly being urged to develop their child’s passion further.

“Kids have so many fascinations,” Lani said, trying to find some perspective. “Some kids like dinosaurs, some kids like trucks; Nicholas just happens to like musical instruments. I just want him to enjoy this time before he gets too serious.”

He is, after all, just four – a little young for him to go into full-time musical training or for her to be a stage mom.

“If he stays with it, of course, we would love to foster it, but for now, we’ll wait,” Lani said.

The wait may be a short one. At a recent musical concert at the University of La Verne, featuring West African drummers, Nicholas found a bucket, instinctively flipped it over and started drumming on it.

“The professor was so sweet,” Lani said. “He took Nicholas on stage afterwards. He said he could tell Nicholas had the intensity of a musician and that I should call him when Nicholas turns five.”

Neither Nicholas nor his two brothers, Alexander, 2, and baby Christopher, have been to Disneyland yet. But for Nicholas, the real magic kingdom is the Sam Ash music store in Ontario.

If either Lani or John weaken, these frequent outings could prove more costly than Disneyland, as Nicholas has his eyes and hopes on an expensive English horn and contrabassoon.

“His requests are getting bigger,” Lani said, alternately lamenting and laughing about her son’s growing musical appetite. “He asked for a cello in the past, but again that’s way too expensive.

“We’ll probably do low-key ones like a flute.”

Empathizing with her economic burden of raising three boys, this reporter suggested a budget-friendly harmonica, perhaps?

“He has several of those,” Lani said.

An encore performance.



An encore performance.

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